As Farouk Lawan, a former flamboyant lawmaker, adjusts to a new life in prison, a journey through the memory lane of his eight years trial brings back the incriminating testimonies that took him to his new abode.
The High Court of the Federal Capital Territory, Apo, Abuja, sentenced the former lawmaker to seven years in jail for bribery and corruption on June 22.
The judge, Angela Otaluka, who indulged his dilatory tactics for the last five years of the trial, convicted Mr Lawan of corruptly demanding $3 million and eventually taking $500,000 from billionaire oil mogul, Femi Otedola, to exonerate the businessman’s company from an allegation of fuel subsidy fraud in 2012.
Mr Lawan, who had become known as Mr Integrity, in tribute to his roles in leading some self-appointed puritan legislators at the time, was the chairman of the ad hoc committee of the House of Representatives asked to investigate the multi-billion-naira fraud in the subsidy scheme at the time.
In the report issued at the end of its inquiry, the committee indicted Mr Otedola’s Zenon Oil and Gas Ltd and many other firms, attracting applause as bearing witness to Mr Lawan’s guts to expose corruption no matter whose ox was gored.
Specifically, the committee accused Zenon Oil of fraudulently obtaining over $230 million foreign exchange from the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) to import petrol under the subsidy scheme, but failed to use it for the purpose.
The story, however, changed when Mr Lawan later removed Zenon Oil’s name from the list of indicted firms after receiving $500,000 from Mr Otedola as the first tranche of the “agreed” $3 million bribe, the judge was told.
Ms Otaluka said the evidence of the five witnesses presented by the prosecution convincingly incriminated the former lawmaker as a corrupt public officer.
Here are the five witnesses presented by the prosecution team led by Adegboyega Awomolo, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, and the highlights of what they said:
Boniface Emenalo (PW1)
Boniface Emenalo was the secretary to the then House of Representatives ad-hoc committee.
Although he started as a co-accused person in the trial, he ended up being the first prosecution witness (PW1) whose testimony contributed to the evidence that sent Mr Lawan to jail.
Messrs Lawan and Emenalo were first arraigned together by the Attorney-General of the Federation’s office which engaged Mr Awomolo as the prosecutor, on seven counts of bribery and corruption, on February 1, 2013.
During their arraignment, they pleaded not guilty before Mudashiru Oniyangi, then a judge of the FCT High Court who would later quit the case following his elevation to the Court of Appeal bench.
The case was reassigned to Bukola Banjoko, another judge of the court. No tangible progress had been recorded when Mr Lawan wrote a petition to then Chief Judge, Ishaq Bello, accusing the new trial judge of bias.
The development made Ms Banjoko to voluntarily withdraw from the case, which was then re-assigned to Ms Otaluka.
The movement of the case to Ms Otaluka’s court saw the prosecution fundamentally changing their tactics.
They amended the charges, pruning down the number of counts from seven to three. In addition, they turned Mr Emenalo, who had been Mr Lawan’s co-accused for three years, to a prosecution witness.
After these bouts of rigmarole that saw the case file tumbling through three courtrooms in the first three years, the prosecution was able to present its first prosecution witness on February 2, 2016.
The case was later going to be caught in another web of legal shenanigans after the prosecution had called four out of its five witnesses. It took a trip to the fourth judge, Yusuf Halilu, but shortly after returned to Ms Otaluka who concluded the trial.
Mr Emenalo, an employee of the National Assembly, who was summoned through a subpoena served on the Clerk of the House of Representatives, tendered some exhibits during his first court appearance as prosecution witness.
In his testimony, he recalled that the committee’s report was presented before the House of Representatives on April 18, 2012.
He described how he visited Mr Otedola in his house on April 24, 2012, on the instruction of Mr Lawan, where the businessman gave him $100,000 in two bundles.
He said he handed over the $100,000 to Mr Lawan with a forwarding memo and he acknowledged receipt.
Although, under cross-examination by defence lawyer, Mike Ozekhome, Mr Emenalo said he received the $100,000 from Mr Otedola as a proof that indicted firms were mounting pressure on the committee to exonerate them.
David Igbodo (PW2)
David Igbodo, who testified as the second prosecution witness, was the investigating police officer in the Special Investigation Unit of the Office of the Inspector General of Police.
A lawyer and then Commissioner of Police, Legal Services, Force Headquarters, Mr Igbodo testified that he investigated the allegation against Mr Lawan and found out that the ex-lawmaker demanded $3 million from Mr Otedola to remove the name of Zenon Oil and Gas Ltd from the list of companies indicted for subsidy scam.
According to him, his findings showed that Mr Lawan visited Mr Otedola’s house at about 3.47 a.m. on April 24, 2012, to collect $500,000 from the billionaire. He said the ex-lawmaker was caught on video receiving the money from Mr Otedola.
“The purpose of the demand and acceptance was to remove the name of Zenon Oil and AP Petroleum from the list of indicted companies.
“On the same April 24, 2012, the defendant after collecting the sum at the house of Otedola, crossed the name of Zenon Oil earlier indicted in a report before the committee at the House of Representatives,” he said.
He said Mr Lawan admitted going to Mr Otedola’s house to collect the $500, 000, and went on to cross out the name of Zenon from the list indicted companies.
He also recalled Mr Lawan admitting that he collected the money and gave it to another legislator, Adams Jagaba, Chairman House of Representatives on Narcotics and Financial Crimes.
He said Mr Emenalo, who was secretary to the ad hoc committee, also visited Mr Otedola between 9 to 10a.m. on April 24, 2012 and was caught on video collecting $100,000 from Mr Otedola.
The police investigator said he found out that Mr Emenalo gave the $100,000 he received from Mr Otedola to Mr Lawan.
He added that Mr Lawan only reported the $100,000 to then chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) as an afterthought, five days after he was given the money.
The defendant failed to disclose to the anti-corruption agency that he had earlier collected $500,000 from Mr Otedola, the witness also said.
David Ojatah (PW3)
David Ojatah, a Principal Staff Officer Technical Services in the SSS, testified as the third prosecution witness (PW3).
The SSS operative told the court how the security agency received a petition from Mr Otedola accusing Mr Lawan of trying to extort him.
He described how he and his team members interacted with Mr Otedola and mounted a video recording device in the sitting room of his house where he was scheduled to meet with Mr Lawan.
The witness explained that the meeting between the two men was captured on video. He said the video clip showed Mr Lawan collecting a parcel from Mr Otedola.
The video clip was produced, admitted as an exhibit, and played in the open court.
Adams Jagaba (PW4)
Adams Jagaba, a former colleague of Mr Lawan in the House of Representatives representing Kachia/Kagarko Federal Constituency of Kaduna State, testified as the fourth prosecution witness (PW4).
His testimony ended up dealing the most fatal blow to Mr Lawan’s narrative of receiving money from Mr Otedola to obtain evidence of bribery against the businessman.
Mr Lawan had claimed that he handed over the total of $620,000 received from Mr Otedola to Mr Jagaba with a covering letter characterising the money as an exhibit.
The $620,000, according to Mr Lawan, comprised the $500,000 he personally took from Mr Otedola, and the $120,000 taken from the billionaire by Mr Emenalo.
Mr Jagaba, who was the Chairman of the House Committee on Narcotics and Financial Crimes in the 2011-2015 legislative session, vehemently denied receiving such money from Mr Lawan.
Asked by the prosecution to respond to the claim that Mr Lawan visited him at about 3 a.m. on April 24, 2012, to report and submit the $620,000 offered to the ad hoc committee by Mr Otedola as bribe, Mr Jagaba said he was deeply asleep at the time.
“My lord, the defendant was not in my house in the early hours of April 24, 2012,” he said.
“I went to bed after 9 p.m. after taking my drugs. I live alone in the house so nobody could have opened the door for him.
“By 10 p.m. all gates of the estates were closed and would not be opened to anybody no matter how highly placed.
“My lord, I never saw or received such money from the defendant.
“The money is not with me. I cannot have what was not given to me,” the ex-lawmaker told the court.
He said he read about Mr Lawan’s claim on the pages of newspapers but decided not to react until he was invited by the police in Abuja.
He recalled requesting to be paired with Mr Lawan during the scheduled police interrogation.
His request was granted by the police and the two ex-lawmakers were made to sit next to each other and Mr Jagaban said Mr Lawan was asked to repeat his previous claims.
According to the witness, Mr Lawan responded that he had only made the claims following his lawyers’ legal advice.
During his testimony, Mr Jagaba confirmed from the House’s Votes and Proceedings of April 24, 2012, earlier tendered as an exhibit, that Mr Lawan, at the said proceedings, proposed an amendment of the ad hoc committee’s Recommendation 9, deleting items V and VI from the list of indicted firms.
Femi Otedola (PW5)
Mr Otedola, a principal character in the matter, testified as the prosecution’s fifth witness on November 21, 2018.
Speaking of his encounter with Mr Lawan in the course of the House probe, Mr Otedola said the lawmaker reached out to him threatening to indict his firms for fraud in the fuel subsidy scheme.
In response, Mr Otedola said he told Mr Lawan that there was no basis for the indictment because none of his two firms operating in the oil industry participated in the fuel subsidy scheme.
He recalled telling Mr Lawan that the EFCC had investigated his two companies – African Petroleum Ltd and Zenon Oil and Gas Ltd – and found out that they were not involved in the scheme.
Mr Otedola told the trial court that despite the clarification, and his companies’ importation documents submitted to the House committee, the then lawmaker visited his home on June 18, 2012, demanding $3million to free Zenon Oil from indictment.
Mr Otedola testified that he saw on television on April 18, 2012, that the House committee’s report was submitted to the House of Representatives plenary, “and I saw that my company was listed as one of the companies involved in the subsidy scam.”
This, he said, prompted him to write a petition to the Director-General of SSS to report the alleged extortion.
He described how SSS operatives later planned a “sting operation” with him to capture Mr Lawan on camera receiving “serialised United States dollars.”
“After handing over the $500,000 USD to the defendant, I asked him what next, he said he would go to the House and discuss with its leadership. He said I should watch House plenary on the television,” Mr Otedola had told the judge.
He added that on April 24, 2012, the secretary of the ad-hoc committee, Mr Emenalo who testified as PW1, also demanded $120,000 which he handed over to him the same day.
According to him, Mr Lawan went on to remove Zenon Oil’s name from the list of the indicted firms and thereafter demanded the $2.5 million balance.
He said he promised the then lawmaker that the money was being arranged and would soon be loaded into an Abuja-bound aircraft.
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